Reflection – 30 days of remembering

Remembering people and their names used to be something that I was really good at. I started to lose this skill a little when I was in the Air Force and spent a year going around the country meeting and training hundreds of people in an air tasking system. There was so much other stuff going on when we did these courses that I wouldn’t remember all of the people I trained at each site, and lets face it we can all blur together a little when we’re dressed the same 🙂

The thing is that they would all remember me, well they only had one instructor whereas my usual class was around 20 people. But I think this was when I started to second guess myself with people’s names, and once I started doing that it just kept going. And since I’ve held so many jobs that seemingly require me to learn everyone’s name in the organisation, well sometimes I feel like my brain just won’t take any more.

How did remembering names go?
I’m generally happy with this activity. I have become more attentive in focusing on people’s names, and so my recall has definitely improved over the 30 days of the activity. Again, as with all of these activities, the main thing is focus. When I focused on people saying their names, rather than focusing on what I was going to say in response, I naturally had better retention of those names.

I have been practising some of the simple aspects mentioned by Joshua Foer and some online resources. Things like repeating the name and visualising some creative hook to remember them by, but the technique that seems to work best for me is to come up with some sort of rhyme in my head, or the way that I say their name in my head. I’m not going to go into that in any more detail, I’m sure that some of these have the possibility of causing offence and I really don’t want to go into to much.

Making memory palaces
I really enjoyed learning this technique and it does work for me. For some things I found it hard to come up with a visual, but on the whole this technique works. I do intend to keep practising this method, as I think it is a useful skill to have.

Remembering to remember
I was definitely more attentive to remembering things that occurred over these 30 days. Most days, when I wasn’t completely flat out at work, I took a few minutes after meetings or interactions with others to just think about what happened and make a more conscious memory of events. This was an important time to be practising this because my workload has been a little insane; I’ve been juggling a lot of things over the last two months. And I would have to say that the 30 days when I was more focused on remembering, I generally felt a little more at ease with my workload. So it must have had some sort of benefit for me.

So to sum up
On the whole I’ve felt that this has been a worthwhile activity and I want to try to be more mindful of keeping it up. Not only the remembering techniques, but also the general concept of remembering. It’s far too simple to be so caught up in what is going on that you don’t really experience these activities in a long term way, that is that you don’t remember them. And since I think that Daniel Kahneman’s talk is completely valid, that we base decisions on our memories of our experiences and not the experiences themselves, it is really important that we remember, and remember well.

This is not easy to do, there are so many things that are going on in our lives these days. We are constantly bombarded with information, and I know that I can often feel like I’m not consciously participating in my life, I’m just being swept along in the tide of activity. This activity has helped me come to terms with some simple things that I can do to be more of a person who remembers. Yes, on the days I was extremely busy this all got pushed to one side, but that made the days that I did focus on it even clearer in my memory. I get it, now I just have to remember the value of it all and remember to keep the focus.

A note on Serendipity
You know how life throws you seemingly random experiences and then they turn out to be very important? Well on the second last day of remembering I had one of these. Our team from work was having lunch and we were talking about 30 days of remembering. We were going through a way to help my manager remember her partner’s mobile number, which was breaking it down into memorable bites and noticing the patterns that exist. I must have said that number about 20 times during lunch. On Tuesday we learned that my manager’s mother had passed away over the weekend. Not wanting to call her to find out about where to send flowers and all of that my brain retrieved the number from Friday. The older I get the more randomness becomes some unexpected connectedness.

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